Sex, Violence & Two Sick Relationships

I mentioned on this website before that I recently watched Tuff Turf (dir. Fritz Kiersch, 1985) for the first time last week.  However, I failed to mention I watched it as a double feature with Internal Affairs (dir. Mike Figgis, 1990).  I discussed the use of color in Tuff Turf previously, but now I turn my attention to the theme of violence in this film and Internal Affairs.

In Tuff Turf, James Spader’s character Morgan is relentlessly terrorized by gang leader Nick (Paul Mones), when Nick’s girlfriend Richie (Kim Richards) begins to fall for Spader.  Nick and his gang break Morgan’s bike, beat him up, ambush him in the school locker room, shoot his father, kidnap Richie, shoot his friend (played by a 19 year old Robert Downey Jr.) in the leg, and beat him up some more.  The violence in this film does well in defining the term excess, but it is also mesmerizing.

Nick seems to derive greater pleasure from terrorizing Morgan than he does raping his girlfriend Richie, while Morgan takes a masochistic delight in pitting himself against Nick on his quest to win Richie (whom he never seems to show any significant affection for).  All the supporting characters become pawns in this sado-masochistic passion play, of which there are many casualties.  This heightened dramatic indulgence signifies one of two things, both of which remain ambiguous at the films conclusion.  One, that such a relationship between social classes is a necessity or by-product of the public school system against which this film is a cautionary tale.  Second, the film could be exaggerating these relationships and by proxy the violence to provide a sort of case study on teenage violence, alleging that the root of such violence is inherently sexual.

Likewise, the film Internal Affairs works with the same sado-masochistic relationships as Tuff Turf.  Ray Avilla (Andy Garcia) is an Internal Affairs officer obsessed with putting away Dennis Peck (Richard Gere), a maniacal policeman.  From the very start of the film Mike Figgis allows the audience to see the atrocities that Peck casually commits.  That is to establish him as the villain (Peck is not above killing his partner), but later, when Peck is under investigation by Avilla, a new sadistic zeal overtakes his character.   Peck, determined not to be put away by Avilla, befriends Avilla’s wife and turns her against him.  Later, he head-butts Avilla in an elevator and threatens to forcefully penetrate Avilla’s wife via her anus.  Meanwhile, Peck is committing other crimes, working as a part time contract killer.  The crimes, which occur once Avilla’s investigation has begun, become highly sexualized.  The pleasure for Peck is now coming from the psychological terror he inflicts upon Avilla, and this pleasure becomes his primary motivation.

However, Avilla differs from Morgan in Tuff Turf.  Avilla does not engage in the same sado-masochistic role-playing.  Instead, he remains the archetypal good cop whose job it is to hunt down the renegade cop Peck.  The climax of Tuff Turf is a highly sexualized, graphically violent knock down brawl between hero and villain, a sexual climax of sorts that Mike Figgis denies the audience of Internal Affairs.  At the conclusion of Internal Affairs, Avilla is rushing home, having guessed correctly that Peck is there, terrorizing his wife.  Richard Gere is splendidly sick in this scene, recalling Dennis Hopper’s work in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986).

Gere’s moment is cut short when Avilla shoots him through a window.  This final turn of events provide an anti-climax, denying the resolution required for a relationship as bizarrely sexual and violent as that of Peck and Avilla.  Instead, the audience is spoon-fed a happy ending which almost entirely negates the complicated relationship tediously built by Gere in the body of the film.

The ending isn’t too important to me here.  What is the most arresting part of this comparison are the sexualization of this violence, and the projecting of sexual fulfillment onto the violence perpetrated by the characters in these two films (excluding Avilla).  The heightened sexual nature of villains in the American Cinema of the 1980s is morbidly fascinating, though I am not qualified to speculate as to the root of such character constructs.  Yet, it is surely indicative of an unhealthy socio-political phenomenon.

-Robert Curry


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